Jeffrey Cohen highlights the monster as a complex aspect of both societal, cultural, and individual identity. He expresses the idea that, “Monsters are our children…they ask us why we have created them” (20). As we can therefore view the monster as a product of our own fears, influenced and possibly created by the environment we live in, the monster very much resembles our inner-thoughts and is a metaphorical representation of mental processes.
Cohen demonstrates that we can “[read] cultures from the monsters they engender” (3). The idea that our deepest fears are usually socially shared arises as Cohen states, “the monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and projection, the monster exists only to be read…” (4). As gender and race exist as social constructions, so does the monster and the body of the monster. It reflects the boundaries of a culture and therefore reflects the our own thoughts of what is socially acceptable or not. For example, “the monster prevents mobility…to step outside of this official geography is to risk attack by some monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself” (12). Cohen illustrates the monster as our own psychological fear about being rejected from society and how stepping outside of social/ cultural norms is looked down upon. The monster is often portrayed as wild, out of control, dangerous; “[monsters] declare that curiosity is more often punished than rewarded, that one is better off safely maintained within one’s own domestic sphere than abroad…”(12). Therefore by illustrating monsters as the extremist products of social constructs and by portraying them often in an evil manner, we are reminded of the boundaries that our society or culture values.
In addition, Cohen points out that the monster somewhat gains power from its non-conformative form; “the monster’s body is both corporal and incorporeal; its threat is its propensity to shift” (5). It is not concrete in its form, parallel to our own fears, and may arise at any time. Like psychological fears, disorders, memories, “The monster notoriously appears at times of crisis…” (6). Like the deer women in the comic that we read in class, she symbolizes the trauma of sexual assault and appears in times when women experience it. The monster has the ability to disappear and reappear which is out of a human’s control, much like mental processes. Cohen shows the parallel of this concept in the monster,”And so the monster is dangerous, a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (6).
Lastly, the monster shows our inter-most desires that we cannot publicly express. Cohen states, “The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices, in order to normalize and enforce. The monster also attracts. The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies…” (17). The monster embodies these desires;”Through the body of the monster fantasies of aggression and domination and inversion are allowed …” (17). When evaluating the monster one must wonder, does the monster represent our own libido (referring to Freud)?
Throughout the reading, Chute focuses on how the comic style has allowed a platform for depicting trauma and how this trauma is portrayed by women. She accentuates how important the depiction of a women in a traumatic situation is and she highlights her as an onlooker and curator, and importantly not only as a victim. Within Fun Home, Bechdel does not hide any truths about trauma and does not dance around the subject. She addresses it as her memory prevails and more importantly fully displays her emotional truths. Through this honesty and representation, Bechdel allows for the trauma she has experienced to become real to her audience and claims authority for the art form. Chute also states that “while a few decades ago comics by women about their lives had to be published underground, today they are taking over the conversation about literature and the self.” This statement clearly demonstrates the ways in which women’s issues have been reserved, pushed back, concealed because they were somehow not ‘appropriate’ for a wider audience. However we must view the fact that women comic authors were getting in trouble for their work about women as a systematic problem. Talking about the body, sex, feminism, etc. should not be censored material just because it is truthful or causes discomfort. I do believe that it is somewhat modern artist’s responsibility to re-introduce the body in a way that is not sexual to an audience. The body needs to be normalized and not only viewed as an object of desire as it has been repeatedly in the past. And this normalization needs to be seen not just in terms of the body, but also with trauma and mental states. Obviously trauma should not be normalized but it has to be separated from the romanticization that it has received. Constantly these topics have been romanticized and somewhat attached to a feminine lens. Once again Alison Bechdel achieves this neutral stance as she depicts herself within Fun Home, dealing with trauma, communicating it to the audience, and being truthful about it. If she were to hide truths from the audience this suspense about the trauma or the events of the story would add secrecy and give these experiences a strange power that she might not intend them to have. Therefore I applaud her honestly as it leaves the reader with little to imagine or fill in the gaps with. Further through the use of color scheme and facial depiction, Bechdel illustrates the true emotions attached to the trauma she experienced. The strictly blue, black, and white colors leave no room for excitement or warmth of any kind. Further, the blank stares throughout the novel leave you with a dull feeling. She does not overhype any aspect of the actions of her father or her mental state. It is truthful and the world needs more of these kinds of novels!
Rose’s analysis of culture, visual art, and the two combined, allows us to think about the boundaries of how we examine and interpret the sensory world around us. I thought it was very interesting how she referred to Berger’s paintings of nude women. Berger considers the audience to have control over what they are viewing, yet Rose also illuminates that Berger’s point of view in creating the painting is equally as important as those who view it. This point of view reminded me of the concept of the “male gaze.” This concept is the idea that women are depicted in the world from a masculine, heterosexual view. This “gaze” gains momentum in that those who view products of the gaze evaluate these depictions as norms and will them further perpetuate these ideas, concepts, images, stereotypes, etc. This endless cycle can be used to look at any kind of stereotype about sex, gender, race, nationality, etc. Although I might be looking at a piece of art from my own perspective, one must remember that through a certain perspective this painting was created and further, the creator’s perspective has been shaped by other perspectives and cultural patterns.
This article reminds me of a research project I did in high school that evaluated an ad from the 1950s. I looked at an Elizabeth Arden makeup ad that very subtly depicted the importance of beauty over knowledge in a college setting. While analyzing the ad, I had to think about the time period, the recent events taking place in America, who designed the ad, who the audience was for the ad, the cultural norms relating to women at the time, the mediums of art of the time, etc. While reading this article, I often thought of this research project and the way in which Rose provides great insight about culture as a more complex definition than we have perceived.
Another really wild thought that Rose brings up is the idea that we are constantly viewing perspectives other than our own and this practice has become a norm. She calls this “simulacrum” and displays how, with time, an object that is being viewed gets more and more unconnected from the “real world.” For example, virtual reality or the simulation of New York in New York. I would question if these kinds of visuals are actually moving away from reality or if the means by which we produce these visuals is getting harder to understand. For example, with this kind of art, it is suddenly harder to pinpoint who created this medium and what the creator intended the audience to see.